NNPA, News Report, Nicole Austin,
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Black and Hispanic children have suffered higher proportional death rates from the H1N1 virus (swine flu) than their White counterparts.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Black and Hispanic children have a greater number of H1N1 deaths since the epidemic started sweeping the nation last March. The agency is not clear about the reason for the disparities. “Blacks and Hispanics are represented in a greater proportion among seasonal and H1N1 deaths in children, than their representation in the U.S. population,” says a report from the CDC, released to the NNPA News Service. “The reasons for more severe outcomes among Black and Hispanics are unknown but may be related to the frequency of underlying conditions that increase the risk for influenza complications in that population or the timing of medical care and or treatment … This racial ethnic disparity requires further study.”
In the most recent numbers acquired, from Sept. 1 to the end of October, Black children made up 32 percent of the children who had died from the virus although they comprise only about 12 percent of the nation's population of children. Hispanic children made up 21 percent of children who had died although they make up only 15 percent of the nation's population of children. On the other hand, White children, who make up 67 percent of the nation's population of children, made up only 25 percent of the children who had died.
The rate of death for regular seasonal flu among Black, Hispanic and White children is also racially disparate—at 18 percent, 25 percent, and 42 percent respectively.
Dr. Louis Sullivan, former president and founder of the Morehouse School of Medicine, agrees with the CDC about possible threats from “underlying conditions.” Bad nutrition, asthma, diabetes, obesity among Black and Hispanic youth and disproportionately poor overall health are ongoing problems, he said. Therefore a serious virus like H1N1 have more severe affects, he added.
For example, Dr. Sullivan said the combination of asthma and H1N1 and also seasonal flu, can lead to death.
“African-Americans and Hispanics have a high concentration in low-income neighborhoods,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Poor communities have higher incidents of asthma. (It) is one condition that increases susceptibility to influenza.”
In 1993, Blacks between the ages of 5 to 20 were four to six times more likely than Whites to die from asthma. Substandard housing resulting in increased exposure to indoor allergens, inadequate access to health care, and the failure to take appropriate medications contribute to the asthma in Black Americans.
Dr. Sullivan also said the lack of well balanced meals and proper nutritional awareness plays a major role in the deaths.
“People who are susceptible to the flu are affected by levels of nutrition,” Dr. Sullivan said. “Clearly, the nutrition among African-Americans and Hispanics will be less than that of Whites, because of a higher level of poverty and lack of affordability.”
Shantel Moss knows firsthand experience with the H1N1. Twenty-year-old Moss was diagnosed with the virus back in July. She is a Black woman, with no previous ailments.
“When I got the swine flu, I was really scared. The symptoms were horrible, but I lived,” Ms. Moss said. “There was another (Black) lady at the health center that had swine flu, but she also had diabetes. She looked seriously ill.”
For every Caucasian with diabetes, 1.6 Black Americans have diabetes. This is a huge disparity for the Black community; considering the Caucasian population outnumbers Blacks by over 60 percent.
“Diabetes and obesity is highest in African-Americans and Hispanics, than any other race,” Mr. Sullivan said. “These issues can cause a lower immunity to H1N1.”
Dr. Sullivan was not surprised by the CDC's finding. However, he believes more research needs to be done to pinpoint specific reasons.
“The precise causes are hard to distinguish,” he said. “This study requires many cases to evaluate. It wouldn't surprise me if it takes six months to a year to find accurate results.”
Meanwhile, the CDC suggests simple preventive methods. They include washing hands often, using anti-bacterial hand rubs, avoiding touching the face with unclean hands and avoiding contact with infected persons to prevent contracting the virus.